ISS Astronauts Meet SpaceX Ship Crew After Historic Docking (PHOTO, VIDEO)

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The Crew Dragon space capsule, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, is unmanned but it carries an astronaut test dummy named Ripley that is outfitted with numerous sensors to collect data from the flight.

The mission is a test launch with only a dummy on board the capsule before a manned flight set for later in 2019.

"It was super exciting to see it", Bob Behnken, one of the two astronauts slated to ride in the Crew Dragon's first crewed test later this year (possibly in July), told the BBC. The US space shuttle program ended in 2011, and NASA has paid Russian Federation about $80 million per seat to send American astronauts to space aboard Soyuz rockets.

"Thank you on behalf of SpaceX", CEO Elon Musk tweeted in reply. Engineers will be carefully watching sound, vibration and other stresses on the spacecraft, while monitoring the life-support, communication and propulsion systems.

California's SpaceX firm is performing a demonstration of a new rocket and capsule combination, which, if it works well, will be approved to carry people. Its destination is the International Space Station, which it is scheduled to reach by Sunday, with a return to Earth next Friday.

"Welcome to a new era in human spaceflight", said McClain in a NASA live webcast.

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The Crew Dragon craft launching from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the International Space Station.

PRIVATE space travel could be closer to becoming a reality after a commercial crew capsule successfully docked at the International Space Station yesterday.

The Crew Dragon is created to stay docked to station for up to 210 days, although the spacecraft used for this flight test will remain docked to the space station only five days, departing Friday, March 8, NASA said.

The capsule's lone passenger for launch - a mannequin wearing a white SpaceX spacesuit - remained strapped into its seat as the station's U.S., Canadian and Russian crew removed supplies and photographed the spotless white interior.

The successful demonstration brings the USA one step closer to once again sending people into orbit without relying on Russian space vehicles, which have ferried American astronauts to the International Space Station since NASA retired its shuttles in 2011. But that quickly changed once the hatch swung open and the space station astronauts floated inside. "Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here".

SpaceX already has made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons. But the programme has suffered delays as safety requirements are much more stringent for manned flights than for unmanned missions to deploy satellites.